Josh Hawley campaign stop in Ozark

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley(R) visits with patrons at Bric’s Belgian Waffle and Pancake House in Ozark during a stop on Hawley’s campaign for U.S. Senate May 28.

The maiden speech is a tradition in the U.S. Senate where new Senators deliver a major address to set the tone for their time in the upper body of Congress. The junior senator from Missouri gave his maiden speech May 15.

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Missouri, pledged to be frank when addressing “the great challenge of our age,” as he explained the difficulties that residents of small towns across Missouri face. Hawley spoke of his hometown of Lexington, “a place where people wake early and work late” to make lives for themselves.”

“Though it is humble, it is a place that reflects the dignity and the quiet greatness of the working men and women,” Hawley said.

In his maiden speech, Hawley said that the American middle class is “under siege, battling the loss of respect and work, the decline of home and family, an epidemic of loneliness and despair.”

Having sat through several high school graduation ceremonies lately, I can tell you about several pockets of Christian County where expectations are high, optimism is rampant, and hope for the future is good. Our fresh crop of 18-year-old graduates should be excited to head out into the word to see what the next phase of their lives holds for them.

In Billings, 32 of the 37 members of the Billings High School graduating class are going to college or some form of post-secondary schooling. It leaves me with two questions: 1. What are the remaining five graduates going to do? 2. What sort of opportunities will be available when the 32 college students earn their degrees, and what sort of opportunities will they have in the years that follow their next graduations?

If you do any sort of internet searching, you’ll see plenty of businesses advertising job openings in and around Springfield. If you want to find work, it’s definitely there for the taking. Many of these jobs are in call centers, warehouses, restaurants, hotels and retail stores. There are lots of jobs available, but not all of them offer the potential to earn a living wage. There are lots of places to get started making minimum wage or a dollar or two per hour above minimum wage, but what about the people who hope to work for more?

Missouri companies are growing. Companies in the Springfield area are growing and adding jobs, but I wonder if the people who hold these positions will be able to sustain a happy and rewarding life for the long term. If low-paying jobs are all that’s out there for the average worker, should the average worker bother to dream of working their way upward and onward?

“GDP growth alone cannot be the measure of this nation’s greatness,” Hawley said. “And so, it cannot be the only aim of this nation’s policy, because our purpose is not to make a few people wealthy, but to sustain a great democracy.”

Hawley seemed to dream aloud of a society with rewarding work for all, towns and neighborhoods that flourish, strength in families, strong schools and churches, and an economy in which American workers are valued over cheaper, lower quality goods from overseas.

Most of us have a great deal to be grateful for. In Christian County, our cost of living is relatively low and our standard of living is relatively high compared to the rest of Missouri, but we certainly are not without our share of economic struggles and discouraged workers.

In spite of a maiden speech that cast shadows of doubt on Missouri’s economic climate, Hawley attempted to close with optimism, the sort of optimism you might find at a high school graduation.

“The hour is not too late, the crisis is not too deep for the determined effort of a great people,” Hawley said.

We aren’t going to spend our way to prosperity. Major employers aren’t going to dump out all of their money to the masses. Just as a company earns its growth, the American worker will have to earn his/her pay raises. It will not be the work of one day, or even one year, but the work of many years. For that, I envy those whose careers are just getting started.

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